In our 2003 report, Locating the Dropout Crisis, we called on readers to imagine a nation in which all students routinely graduate from high school ready and prepared to succeed in college, career and civic life. We also mapped the chasm between that image and the harsh reality in the fifth of our public high schools that produce half our nation’s dropouts, and in the failure of many more “achievement gap” high schools to meet the learning needs of low income and minority youth.
Since then we have seen major developments in the national movement to reform secondary education. Advocacy and reform support organizations have partnered with states, districts, post-secondary institutions and philanthropies to build understanding of the challenge and to develop and pursue viable solutions. Collectively, we are instituting better measures and data systems needed to identify off-track students and struggling schools. We are getting clearer about what high school graduates need to know and be able to do to succeed in college and career. Most importantly, we are innovating at the school and district levels and learning much about what it takes to create engaging, supportive, academically rigorous learning environments designed to keep all students on the graduation path. With federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds now targeting innovation and school improvement, and exciting response to the America’s Promise Campaign’s dropout prevention summits in communities across the country, the ground is now more fertile than ever to systematically advance this work. Dropout prevention and secondary school transformation are two projects that are “shovel ready.”
There is little question that the time has arrived to transform our secondary education system into one where “Everyone Graduates.” We created the Everyone Graduates Center to support this transformation through ongoing analysis of the causes, location, and consequences of the nation’s dropout crisis, the development of tools and models designed to keep all students on the path to high school graduation and college and career readiness, and capacity building efforts to enable states, communities, school districts, and schools to provide all their students with the supports they need to succeed. The website every1graduates.org offers immediate access to our initiatives in these areas, and to the work of our numerous reform partners.
We have come a long way, but the road is steep and full of switchbacks we must now negotiate lest they stall focused action. First, we need better understanding of which solution elements can be developed through broad policy changes (e.g. establishment of a common core college preparatory curriculum as the default for all students), and those that require more situational responses appropriate for a particular context. Second, we need much deeper understanding of how valued school reform “inputs,” (e.g. strong leaders, skilled and adequately compensated teachers, challenging curriculum, improved facilities, whole school reform and new school models, technology) can be not only established, but implemented in ways that create respectful and dynamic human relationships and strong, sustainable, inclusive learning communities. Third, we remain challenged to create a uniquely American integration of academic and applied education content and pedagogy to maximize engagement, development of 21st Century skills, and college and career preparation for all students. Finally, we need to be able to move on several fronts at once. We need to advance system wide reform while also, once and for all, gather and bring to bear the human and financial resources necessary to transform the high schools that produce most of the nation’s dropouts and the middle grade schools that feed them.
The image of public high schools providing all America’s young people with a high-quality education is inspiring and compelling. It remains our vision to be able to say to any child, in any part of the United States, “Your schools will educate you, challenge you, care for you, support you, and graduate you ready to succeed in the world.” We carry this vision into the Everyone Graduates Center and our ongoing efforts to create the change we want to see in the world.
Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters
Co-Directors, Everyone Graduates Center